Poet Eve Grubin told me, many years ago, that a strong poem possesses a weave, an interplay between light and darkness, self and other, internal and external, the lucid and the paradox. She said that it is this weave, not necessarily a linear narrative and firm conclusion, which binds a strong poem together. This might have been my first brain-opening to experimental literature—whatever experimental literature is.
I thought about the weave again when I recently read Rae Armantrout’s essay “Feminist Poetics and the Meaning of Clarity.” Have you read it? It’s good, and it was published in 1992, the year between Nevermind and In Utero. The essay describes the poetry of that time as “univocal…often culminating in a sort of linear epiphany.”
Armantrout depicts a homogenized experience of poetry, one which leaves little room for ambivalence and the interplay of the weave. She then pits this singleness of focus (which I view as an arrow, a Castro peen if you will) against “the core of woman’s condition.” What is the core of woman’s condition? Well, Armantrout says that woman is “internally divided against herself” and I’ll be the first one to back that up.
So, let’s think. A poem possessing a strong weave contains opposing forces. The experience of being a woman on this planet also contains opposing forces (though I’d be willing to bet it does for some dudes too). Is poetry today less linear, more weave-permissive than it was in 1992? Were any of you alive in 1992?
A final thought. In the essay, Armantrout examines Jacques Lacan’s notion that women are excluded from the symbolic order. She perceives this exclusion as a “moment of freedom” and an opportunity to “challenge the contemporary poetic convention of the unified voice.” I can get down with this, in the sense that if I pick up Anne Sexton’s The Death Notebooks (luv u Anne!) a little alarm might go off in my head like “too juicy” or “not trendy” or “do not admit to this on Goodreads.” And I’ve definitely felt at times that my own work is too juicy or messy or does not contain enough self-sustaining deer to comply with today’s contemporary poetic convention(s). Ultimately, though, I don’t know if this discomfort is about being a woman, or an outsider, or a poet, or a human.